It’s All Right, Brahmacharya Moves in Mysterious Ways

She was a philosopher living out her dharma in this life as a princess as she continued to practice deep meditation on Atman. But a young prince so moved by the sight of her decided he wanted to marry her. As he would not be dissuaded, she agreed to entertain his request at her home in 10 days. For the 10 days until their meeting, the princess drank of a purgative of croton oil. She collected all the motions that issued from her body in 10 enamel commodes and placed them under coverlets of beautiful silk.

When the prince came to call, the princess was unrecognisable in her death-like pallor and sunken face. She assured him that she was indeed the same woman he had admired before and had, in fact distilled her essential beauty into the 10 receptacles. He wordlessly gazed into the vessels, struck by this offering. Falling at her feet, he renounced the empty show of the world, filled with intense Vairagya. He at once cast off his princely vestments to retire to the forests in search of knowledge.

– Adapted from Practice of Brahmacharya by Sri Swami Sivananada, Section III, 22:6

Like the young prince, we spend a lot of time hunting. Many of us feel an innate desire to dominate other animals great and small, including people – to consume their flesh on one level or another. We give this habit the name of instinct, these actions that make sport of an other’s flesh as a crucible at which we sacrifice the energies of another to feed our own aimlessness.

Instead, consider the animal nature within yourself. Do not let cravings and temptations hollow or detract from your mindfulness. Rising monarchs may become consumed by notions of acquisition (be it of goals or accessories) in service to the ego. More than simply wanting to possess the body of the princess, the prince desired to extend his kingdom of dominion further still. He desired immortality. Foolishly, he sought it outside his own body. In doing so, he denied his own suffering and the eventuality of his own death.

The wise brahmacharini purged not only her physical impurities but her own ego. Her gift to a wandering soul was the reminder that body is no more than pus, lymph, blood and ooze. She was a keeper, but she would not be kept! She became the living embodiment of “mrityor ma amritam gamaya” (read: lead me from death to immortality) with her body entire.

Gratitude can be an appropriate, ego-destroying response to difficult, painful realisations. They humble us and destroy the unsustainable unreality or maya we are given to. Can our essential selves draw others to the bliss of dispassion the way our brahmacharini did? To be a yogi means to live in the ways that conduct us and others on the path of devotion, wisdom and universal love. May we not be subdued by our baser instincts, and instead channel our energies to a greater, more sublime goal.

– Jennifer Lew